OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | WeekWise: One and Two
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WeekWise: One and Two

We’re ecstatic for the start of another #bayoustartupsummer. This summer marks our fifth (FIFTH!?!) year and adds six new startup teams to the OwlSpark family. From the start, this summer has been dynamic, beginning with a change of venue from previous years. For the next three months we will be co-working with RED Labs out of the brand-new DesignHive in downtown Houston, in a collaborative space thanks to our “suite” partners, Brookfield, JLL, J Tyler, and Ziegler Cooper (check it out).

With finishing touches being installed as startup teams arrived, this new space is an apt comparison for the journey our teams are about to embark on. The excitement is almost tangible, we have a space that is all our own, and the newness gives off a feeling of limitless possibility.

Week One

In the words of our Managing Director Kerri Smith, this week is all about shock and awe. Once our teams settled, in they were inundated with an immersive three-day study on customer development and value propositions. Kaz Karwowski of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership helped shape how teams thought about who their customers are, and how to reach them. In addition to being an engaging lecturer, Kaz is also a certified instructor for the National Science Foundation’s Innovation-Corps (I-Corps).

The second assignment of the week was to get out of the building. During the summer, founders will conduct 100 customer interviews with the end users, purchasers, influencers, and other key players in the ecosystem for their innovations. We began the process by kicking everyone out for a few hours each day, forcing them to start knocking on doors and shaking hands. On Wednesday night, founders were able to get some practice talking about their startups at our annual Mentor Mixer. Mentors from OwlSpark, RED Labs, and Station Houston had a chance to mingle and network with founders.

The second half of the week focused on identifying beachhead markets and learning about market sizing. We had lectures from Dr. Hesam Panahi of the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, as well as an incredible talk from Gray Hancock of Decisio Health on evaluating market opportunities. Founders later had a chance to meet with mentors for a second time for immediate feedback on their beachhead markets. We were joined by Adam Wulf of Milestone Made, Tom Kraft of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Andrew Swick of CheckedTwice (OwlSpark Class 1 alumni), Wendy Hoenig of Rice Engineering Alumni, Dave Cook of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, Matthew Peña of Rice University (OwlSpark Class 3 alumni), Steve Wilbur of INTX Capital, Mike Evans of Rice University, and Greg Wright of RED Labs.

We rounded out Week One with a discussion on mentoring and networking (are you following us on LinkedIn yet?), and a visit from past founders from OwlSpark and RED Labs Classes 3 and 4, who shared their experience in the accelerator programs, and their advice to founders for getting the most out of the summer. It was an inspiring start to the upcoming long weekend.

Week Two

Startup teams were back at it bright and early Tuesday morning. The pace of programming, while fast, slowed down a notch this week. The days were still packed their days with sessions and customer interviews.

We spent more time with Dr. Hesam Panahi of the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business Tuesday morning learning how to craft the persona of our end users. Based on intel from their customer interviews, founders presented a snapshot of their end user’s life–from the type of cereal they eat for breakfast, to the fears that keep them up at night. They later met with our dedicated mentors for a chance to talk personas, Adam Wulf of Milestone Made, Andrew Swick of CheckedTwice (OwlSpark Class 1 alumni), LK Pryzant of Mercury Fund, Ken Jones of the University of Houston, Matthew Peña of Rice University (OwlSpark Class 3 alumni), Steve Wilbur of INTX Capital, and Greg Wright of RED Labs.

Next, founders took the time to flesh out their value propositions with help from Mike Evans, Lecturer at Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business. Founders were also exposed to principles of agile development and SCRUM taught by Bill Robertson (Rice University ’04 and ’13) from Baker Hughes.

What’s it like if you start a company with family and friends? Should every team member get equal equity? How do I have difficult conversations with my co-founder? These and many more topics were discussed by Roberto Moctezuma, an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and Fortune 50 executive, in a lecture based off the book The Founder’s Dilemmas. He walked founders through common pitfalls faced by startups, hopefully helping our teams avoid falling into the same traps. This knowledge was complemented with a session from Lavonne Hopkins, an attorney from BakerHostetler, who specialize in intellectual property law. She went above and beyond to share legal considerations for early stage startups, including incorporation, as well as protection of IP and privacy.

We finished Week Two with Robin Tooms of Savage Brands, who walked founders through the importance of creating a brand. Some of our startup teams were surprised to learn that branding is more than just advertising, and all of our founders are beginning to explore their core values on which their startups are based.

It’s been a busy, but productive first two weeks of this #bayoustartupsummer, and we’ve completed more than 30 sessions and activities in just nine days—we’re already one-sixth of the way through the summer!

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